I was about to write a rant and then I stopped myself. “You’re talking about fancy restaurants! Good-grief. Don’t you have any sense of proportion. There are people who don’t have what to eat! You’re a spoiled brat.” So, this is not a “rant.” It’s a “pout.”
Two things take the smile off my spoiled little face: restaurant week and brunch.
Restaurant “week”, or restaurant “half-the-goddam-year,” was originally intended as a promotional event. Started in 1992, it was originally only lunch and only for a week during the dog days of summer when restaurants were lacking customers. Discount menus were offered in hope of luring in new customers who might become regulars. Lunch turned into lunch and dinner. One week became two, and then three! Once a year became twice a year. I eat out all year long and, generally, I simply eat in during restaurant week. However, as luck would have it, my mother’s birthday falls during those dog days of summer. What does mother want for her birthday this year? Amy Schumer’s new movie (easy) and dinner. Dinner. During never-ending restaurant week. She would settle for lunch, but that doesn’t change the problem.
I was born an adventurous eater. If I see something on the menu I don’t recognize, I am immediately drawn to it. However, I think my first “food revelation” was when my sister and I visited the home of one of her college friends. Her friend’s mother was an excellent cook. The revelation was mayonnaise. That sounds banal, but my own mother was a classic child of the fifties who availed herself of every convenience food available. We used to joke that we knew dinner was ready when the smoke detector went off. She worked and went back to school for a graduate degree when my sister and I were still small. My father had a congenitally weak heart so she did much of the work around the house. You can’t be good at everything and she gave us food that was healthy enough, if a little tasteless. Be that as it may, I had never before eaten mayonnaise that hadn’t come out of a jar. Mayonnaise has no exotic ingredients, but I learned that doing many little things right adds up to a lot. Eventually, when I moved out on my own, I wanted to become I competent cook just for myself. Back then, the word “foodie” had not yet been coined and people use to call me a “gourmet.”
Add to that the little fact that I’ve always taken to luxury very well. Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Luxury is the ease of a t-shirt in a very expensive dress. If you don’t have it, you are not a person who is used to luxury. You are just a rich person who can buy stuff.” Strangely, I’m actually more comfortable in an expensive dress than a t-shirt. It’s a shame I’m not a rich person who can buy stuff because by Lagerfeld’s definition I am definitely used to luxury. It’s not just the food I enjoy. I love the ritual of eating. I love the luxury.
I had a friend who was an alcoholic. He hated New Year’s Eve and called it amateur hour. That is how I feel about restaurant week. You see, as a promotional event that brings out the cheapskates you get indifferent food and worse service. Even if you go to a place without the intention of availing yourself of the restaurant week specials, you still wind up getting treated badly. Now that I think about it, I went to the restaurant Daniel back when that was Daniel Boulud’s only restaurant. I went to DB Moderne when he opened that. However, I made the mistake of going to Cafe Boulud during restaurant week one year. The food was indifferent and the service was just absolutely awful. Now, I have not intentionally avoided his restaurants since, however I have not been to one either and it’s probably close to a decade now. It’s entirely subconscious. Well, he now has more restaurants than he knows what to do with, so he can apparently prosper without my patronage. I guess that’s the market at work. I think restaurant week is bad for me, but I suppose it’s good for the restaurants or it wouldn’t have become the week that ate the entire year. I guess restaurants don’t need “regulars” any more.
Ersatz luxury, that’s what it is. You get to eat in the fancy restaurant, but without the service and food one normally associates with it.
Once upon a time, I liked brunch well enough. Usually, it was something I associated with vacations. Somehow, however, it has driven out normal lunches from almost every restaurant, even places that would not have served it years ago, even French restaurants. As far as brunch goes, I’ve discovered a work-around: Asian food. Saturdays and Sundays are now my days for Asian restaurants. May Asian cuisine be forever preserved from the degradation that is brunch.
On the up-side, I like popcorn. And Amy Schumer.
And here’s a very appropriate Amy Schumer sketch: